The Teachers Before Us
In the months after my first child was born, I noticed how easy it was to get caught up in my head and stay there. I was a new mom, and every moment was new. Danger seemed to be lurking around every corner. A small, funny sounding cough from my newborn and off to an internet search engine my husband and I would go. We came by this honestly, as most new parents do. When a new, precious being enters the world, an abundance of advice pours in from every direction from people wanting to help. An entire industry is devoted to directing and advising new parents on what they should and shouldn’t do. Some of this advice is based on solid research, some is based on personal anecdotes, all of it well-intentioned. But, as most new parents come to realize at some point, our children do not in fact enter this world with a "how-to" manual.
My Daughter is My Teacher
I will be the first to tell you that I do not have parenting figured all out. Actually, the second. When my daughter was two or three months old, she and I were at home one day while I was still on maternity leave. She was upset about an undetermined something and I was up in my head, problem solving. (Side note: the new sleep schedule that accompanies newborns [aka. sleep deprivation] is a real contributing factor to headiness). Hungry? Nope. New diaper? Nope. How about a swaddle and a song? Nope and nope. Then came this very poignant image that will remain burned into my brain for eternity. My daughter was laying on the floor, face deep red, fists in tight balls, screaming. I was kneeling on the floor, leaning over her, head spinning, my mind and body completely exhausted. Finally, the pace of my spinning head reached a crescendo, and down came the tears in desperate release. From deep within my pleading heart I admitted to her and the universe, “I don’t know what do to. I just don’t know what to do.” Just then, my daughter quieted down and with the infinite wisdom of many lifetimes in her eyes she looked right into mine… and smiled.
I stopped reading books. I resisted the daily, at times hourly, temptation to ruminate on, Google, or commiserate about the various perils of being a new mom. I started to simply listen. From this moment, and many moments to come, I made the intention to honestly tune in to my daughter, and to listen with kindness and patience. To do my very best to hear what she was saying from her heart to mine. She is my teacher. I also recognized the importance of listening to my own heart and honoring what it is asking for, especially when it is screaming for genuine attention. We are both new to each moment, after all. While I am hesitant to give even one more piece of information that seems like advice, I will share my two-step process for when I am lost in the ether of the problem-solving mind... as a parent, as a spouse, as a friend, as a human.
Step 1: Begin a mindfulness practice of just coming back to the present, to what is happening right here and right now, just as it is. This can be done in a formal, seated practice. But this can also be achieved simply through the momentary, brave and painful acknowledgements of not having all of the answers, and then maybe even allowing your tears to come into that space. Having a young child means having MANY competing priorities. For the first year of my daughter’s life, while she was learning to sleep on her own, sleep was our number one priority (after her safety, of course). Sleep deprivation makes everything more difficult, including a mindfulness practice or any form of self-care. It is often the fleeting moments of mindful awareness that help me negotiate all of these priorities and stay open to the magnificent process of my life as it is unfolding. An intention of a mindfulness practice also brings with it the practice of loving kindness. The compassion to know deeply that we are all doing the best that we can in every moment and that in every moment, every breath, we have the opportunity to step back into presence. Which brings me to the next and final step…
Step 2: Begin again.